IFJ Demands Media Action as Journalists' Toll Hits 90 and More Reporters Die in Afghanistan

The International Federation of Journalists today urged journalists and media organisations to avoid unsafe front-line reporting and not to travel without protection in Afghanistan after four more journalists perished in a roadside ambush near Kabul - bringing to seven the toll of media deaths in Afghanistan the past week.

"Much of Afghanistan is now bandit country and hundreds of reporters are at risk," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group, "It is clearly reckless for reporters to go into areas that have not been secured without military protection."

He was speaking after the deaths of Reuters news agency television cameraman Harry Burton, an Australian, and Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan-born photographer. In addition, Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera in Milan and Julio Fuentes of the Madrid daily El Mundo, were involved in the incident. The identity of a fifth person remains unclear.

The IFJ says that 2001 is becoming one of the worst years on record for the killings of journalists with some 90 cases of media staff deaths under investigation.

"Journalists have to be extra careful in making sure they have cover when they are moving around the country, but even with armed guards there are still risks given the irregular nature of the forces on the ground," said Aidan White.

The IFJ says media organisations must stop putting pressure on reporters to deliver ever-more dramatic footage of the Afghan conflict. "How many reporters have to die, before we get the message across that safety must come before the story," said Aidan White.

Given the fast-moving situation on the ground and with more than 1,000 journalists and media staff working in the region, the IFJ says that some people are inevitably going to be in danger, "but news organisations must minimise the risks. Above all, they must make sure that seeking competitive edge does not mean sacrificing the safety of their staff."

The IFJ says that all news organisations must adhere to industry safety codes and condemns those that do not. "Media organisations who do not exercise restraint, who fail to train their staff and who push ruthlessly for instant news and sensational images must take responsibility for the tragic consequences," said Aidan White. "It is not naïve or unrealistic to demand a safety first policy in Afghanistan, it is the only sane response to the horrifying deaths of the last days."

The convoy was traveling without the customary armed guard. The area where the incident occurred is considered to be a wild region under no one's control.

Three Western reporters were killed in northeast Afghanistan about a week ago when Taliban forces ambushed fighters of the opposition Northern Alliance. French radio reporters Johanne Sutton of Radio France Internationale, Pierre Billaud of RTL, and German journalist Volker Handloik, a freelance working for Stern magazine, had been riding on the roof of an armored personnel carrier when it came under fire.